Texas lawmakers say ‘no’ to toll roads

| 7/6/2009

The Texas Legislature wrapped up a two-day special session Thursday, July 2, by authorizing $2 billion in highway bonds and extending the operations of five state agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation.

But lawmakers are likely to get a hearty thumbs up from constituents for a decision made on toll roads. They turned down an attempt to extend the authority of TxDOT and regional mobility authorities to sign long-term toll road leases with private companies.

Despite pleas from Gov. Rick Perry to authorize public-private toll roads around the state, House and Senate lawmakers turned a cold shoulder to the plan to authorize so-called comprehensive development agreements for another two years.

Texas law now mandates that authority to enter long-term contracts with private toll-road developers go away by Sept. 1, with the exception of a short list of proposed roads that have until 2011.

Another blow was received by the governor when lawmakers approved the $2 billion transportation bonding bill without placing bond revenues in a revolving fund that could have been used for projects including privately operated toll roads. Instead, the account prohibits converting free roads into toll roads.

Perry called lawmakers to the capitol to address the short list of topics in the days leading up to the July Fourth weekend. He thanked them for their work but was unhappy with their decision not to endorse the toll-road proposal.

“I had hoped to reduce uncertainty regarding several major transportation projects across the state by extending the comprehensive development agreement authority for local and state transportation agencies,” Perry said in a written statement.

“Although the CDA bill did not pass, we will continue to work with legislators and local officials to find transportation solutions.”

Lawmakers reversed their course on the tolling option several weeks after the end of the regular session when they made numerous attempts to adopt an extension of the deal-making authority. In addition, they previously favored restrictions on toll contracts including limits on non-compete clauses, limits on how long tolls could be charged, and a requirement that TXDOT submit non-toll options to the Legislature for evaluation.

Despite the provisions being combined into one bill for their consideration during the special session, House and Senate lawmakers opted to avoid a vote on the issue until the next regular session that is scheduled in 2011.

In spite of the demise of the toll road bill, projects already in the works will be allowed to continue.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Texas in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.